#AskaCurator: Church of Our Lady

We’re introducing a new feature on our blog, called “Ask a Curator.” We have a very knowledgeable curatorial team here at the museum, and we want to give you a chance to ask them any questions you may have about Guelph’s history.

Want to know more about an old building you walk past every day? Curious about a famous Guelphite? Tweet your question to @guelphmuseums, or email us at [email protected] . We’ll select a question every month to be answered (in detail) on our blog.

This week, to get things started, we asked you a question: what Guelph church is depicted in this picture?


@armstrong_shawn correctly identified the church as Church of Our Lady. But something is missing from the picture. Let’s find out more:

When was Church of Our Lady built?

Building began on Church of Our Lady in 1876. But it wasn’t the first church in that location. When John Galt was laying out his plan for Guelph, in compliment to Bishop Alexander MacDonell, a hill in the centre of Guelph was reserved for use by the Catholic Church. The first church – a small wooden structure – was built in 1835. This church, named St. Patrick’s, was in existence until October 10, 1844, when it was destroyed by fire. Some said that it was caused by sparks from a bonfire set by settlers of Irish origin to celebrate the release of noted Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell, from an English prison. Others claimed that the fire was set by a Protestant mob.

Ooh, a conspiracy theory! So what happened between 1844 and 1876?

A second church, built of stone with a tower and spire, was erected in 1846 and dedicated to St. Bartholomew. It soon was outgrown, however, and a cornerstone was laid in 1863 for a new church which would have been much larger than the present one. But that project ran into financial difficulties and work was discontinued. About ten years later, a commission to build a third church was granted to Joseph Connolly, an Irish-Canadian architect. His design displays many features of the Gothic Revival style.

Gothic Revival? Sounds scary. What was that about?

The Gothic Revival was an architectural movement that started in England in the 18th century. It was an attempt to revive the gothic architecture of the medieval period. It was imported from England to Canada in the 19th century and became very popular here.

Church of Our Lady must have taken a while to build. When was it finished?

Well, the first sod for this church was turned in 1876; the cornerstone was laid in 1877. In 1888, 12 years after the building was started, it was dedicated to Our Lady Immaculate. But the twin towers, which rise to a height of over 200 feet, weren’t completed until 1926.

Aha. That’s what was missing from the picture. When is that picture from?

The picture is a postcard from 1912, before the spires were completed.

Well, even without spires, it’s a beautiful church.

Some of the carving on the exterior walls is by the well-known Guelph artisan, Matthew Bell, whose work can be seen throughout the city. He fell from the scaffolding while working on the church and never recovered from his injuries. He died in 1883 before his work was completed.

Posted by Dawn Owen on October 2, 2014